Winnebago Co., IL. (ECWd) -
Pecatonica Township is located in Winnebago County, just to the west of Rockford, IL.
At its August 20, 2019 Township Board of Trustees Meeting, the Township Board purports to have passed a Resolution (2019-103) banning a township critic from attending the next three township meetings.
Our belief is that a statutory right cannot be taken away by a vote of a local public body - it must be applied for thru the Courts by way of a restraining order or similar court action. Judges, rightfully so, are reluctant to restrict a statutory right to attend public meetings.
The Resolution cites several "violations" of the township's public comment policy, including, the requirement to sign up for comment at least 15 minutes prior to the start of a meeting, restricting commenters to three minutes, and no "personal attacks" (whatever that means).
Incidentally, the vote total for the Resolution shows 2 "NO" votes and 2 "YES" votes - with no vote listed for the Supervisor on the face of the Resolution.
Our opinion is that the requirement to sign up 15 minutes prior to a meeting, and the prohibition of "personal attacks" (without defining them) both are in violation of the Open Meetings Act.
People have a statutory right to provide public comment at public meetings (5 ILCS 120/2.06(g)), and public bodies have a statutory obligation to set aside a portion of its meetings to hear public comment. Public bodies may make rules governing public comment, but they must enhance, and not further restrict, the right to comment.
The Township Public Comment Policy:
- The 2017 Ordinance - shows a requirement to sign up 15 minutes in advance of a meeting
- The 2017 Ordinance - Improperly prohibits comments consisting of "personal attacks, accusations of wrong-doing, disparaging remarks, grandstanding, or other inappropriate remarks"
- The 2017 Ordinance - Punishment for violating this Ordinance is the requirement that violator leave the meeting "for its duration"
- The March 2018 Amendment to the 2017 Ordinance - Amends paragraph 1 of previous Ordinance to say that "a written request" must be submitted to the Board no less than 15 minutes prior to the start of the meeting in order to provide public comment at the meeting
- The July 2018 Amendment to the 2017 Ordinance - Complains of "improper and exaggerated recording activity" before and after township meetings
- The July 2018 Amendment to the 2017 Ordinance - provides a 4 feet by 4 feet area where all recordings must be made, no recording after the meeting is adjourned, video and audio recordings must be done "from stands placed within the designated area for recording"
- The July 2018 Amendment to the 2017 Ordinance - provides for a penalty for violations of the public comment policy as the same as the statutory penalty for the violation for any township or municipal ordinance
We have not been able to find any standard "penalties" in any township or municipal statute. Which essentially means there are no penalties...unless they revert back to the original Ordinance from 2017, which says they can make someone violating the ordinance leave the meeting "for its duration."
We have sent a FOIA request for a copy of these alleged "statutory penalties" and will update this when the township answers.
The action taken by this Pecatonica Township Board place the Township in the position of violating the rights of a citizen wanting to attend township meetings.